Friday, November 14, 2008
Queen of The Big Time by Adriana Trigiani
In the late 1800s, the residents of a small village in the Bari region of Italy, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea, made a mass migration to the promised land: America. They settled in Roseto, Pennsylvania, and re-created their former lives in their new home-town to the very last detail of who lived next door to whom. The hardworking Castellucas work the land outside Roseto. Nella, eighteen, aspires to a genteel life "in town," far from the rigours of farm life. But Nella's dreams of making her own fortune shift when she meets and falls in love with Renato Lanzara, a wordly, handsome, devil-may-care poet who has a way with words that makes him irresistible. Their friendship ignites into a passionate affair that Nella is certain will lead to marriage. When he disappears without explanation, Nella is left with a shattered heart. Five years later, Renato's sudden return to Roseto, just one week before Nella's wedding, leaves her and all the townsfolk shaken. For although Renato has chosen a path very different from Nella's own, they are fated to live together, in the same town, for the rest of their lives.
Roseto in the 1920s. A small city in America, built by Italian immigrants who recreated the city they come from in Pennsylvania. As the main character explains, if you were my neighbour in Italy you’ll be my neighbour in the new Roseto too.
The Castlellucas live in a farm on the outskirts of Roseto. They have 5 daughters, the oldest Assunta is never satisfied and waits for her arranged marriage to an Italian to take place when he comes over from “the other side”, the middle one Nella, dreams of studying and becoming a teacher. As the book opens she is waiting for her teacher to come and talk to her parents about sending her to school in the city.
In the Castellucas, Trigiani evokes a hard working family in a difficult time, having to take odd jobs and relying on their vegetable gardens for food, having to send their children to work while still young. But she also shows a loving family with happy events, heartbreaking decisions and sorrows to deal with. All in a small town atmosphere where everyone knows everybody and shares the neighbours good and bad moments. Although focusing on Nella the book shows an interesting set of characters in her family, her neighbours, her co-workers and boss. In them the author introduces us to the Italian immigrants who choose to preserve their way of life, their traditions and customs, despite being now in a new country.
The heroine Nella is almost too perfect, she leaves school at fifteen to work in the blouse factory and by sixteen she is forelady. She falls in love with Renato Lanzara with whom she shares a love of poetry and learning. She is abandoned by him and eventually starts going out with Franco Zollerano whom she later marries. Through it all she also has the heartbreak of seeing one sister dying and another finding happiness. She sees her best friend finding love too and the babies of a new generation coming along to become the carriers of tradition. After having spent much of her life unsatisfied and searching for answers she seems to find wisdom and peace, finally.